ASEAN must protect Rohingya, says panel (Democratic Voice of Burma)

Regional lawmakers called on leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries to act to avoid further tragedy in Burma’s Rohingya crisis on the eve of the 26th ASEAN Summit in Malaysia.

Intergovernmental body ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) released their latest report on Thursday, concluding a visit to Burma, officially known as Myanmar, earlier this month. APHR said that the country’s Muslim Rohingya are at serious risk of atrocity crimes, defined by the UN as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression.

Between the Rohingya crisis, anti-Muslim violence and human rights abuses against ethnic minorities, we found that nearly every risk factor for atrocity crimes identified in the UN Framework for Analysis of Atrocity Crimes is present in Myanmar today, said APHR in an open letter to ASEAN leaders that coincides with the report.

The delegation to Burma witnessed what it called an alarming proliferation of hate speech and extremist language, which it said is likely to worsen before the upcoming election, expected to be held in November.

Many Burmese refuse to use the word Rohingya, instead using the term Bengali, a trend which Shwe Maung, a Rohingya member of Burma’s parliament and part of APHR, calls particularly troubling.

Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law means that Rohingyas are not recognised as citizens of the Buddhist majority state. 2012 saw scenes of terrible violence between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and the Muslims in the area, causing thousands of Rohingyas to flee their homes.

Discrimination and confinement to abysmal camps have left the group vulnerable, with many pushed to take to the seas, usually under the watch of traffickers, in hope of a better life.

APHR says this exodus represents the highest number of sea-borne asylum seekers since the Vietnam War.

Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project told DVB that the crisis is likely to particularly affect Malaysia, the hosts of the ASEAN meeting that starts on Friday.

Malaysia is the most affected country in the region, bearing the brunt of the Rohingya maritime exodus, and this is not a matter of internal affairs. Sooner or later, Malaysia will have to deal with tens of thousands of stateless Rohingyas who are there to stay, since Myanmar is unlikely to ever let them return. A humanitarian emergency is already developing in Malaysia, with no education for refugee children and little access to health care, she said.

The failure of ASEAN states to take action has deepened the crisis, says APHR, and leaders are called upon to take a number of measures to prevent escalation and the committing of atrocity crimes, including: the deployment of monitors to the country ahead of general elections later this year; the acknowledgement and protection of those fleeing Rakhine [Arakan]State; and urging Burma’s government to reject the Race Protection legislation, which many see as an instrument to repress and control the Rohingya minority.

The crises in Myanmar, including the persecution of Rohingya, anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, and systematic abuses against other ethnic minorities, are not only a problem for Myanmar-they are a problem for all of ASEAN, according to the open letter.

However, Lewa points out that it is unlikely that ASEAN states will choose to pressure its neighbour to address the crisis, given the bloc’s commitment to a laissez-faire approach. It would be in the best interest of ASEAN countries, and Malaysia in particular, to raise the Rohingya ethnic cleansing situation in Rakhine and put pressure on Myanmar. However, it is doubtful that this issue will be put on the agenda in view of ASEAN principle of non-interference in member states’ internal affairs, she said.

As the crisis threatens to weaken the region to extremist ideologies, as well as straining economic relationships and threatening Burma’s political transition, APHR are clear in their conviction that the ASEAN states are responsible not only for adopting safeguards to reduce regional insecurity, but for preventing a catastrophe waiting to happen.